Eduardo Porter at the NY Times: 'America’s Best Days May Be Behind It'

You could have set your watch to it. When a leftist local, gubernatorial or presidential regime enters its final year after demonstrating its corruption, incompetence and inexcusable disrespect for law and procedure to that point, someone in the press will directly or indirectly excuse them by saying that the entity that person is running is "ungovernable," or that "its best days are behind it."

President Barack Obama hit the one-year-to-go mark for his second term yesterday. On cue, Eduardo Porter at the New York Times told readers that "America’s Best Days May Be Behind It." Naturally, Porter did not mention Obama's name, nor did he cite Obama's outsized contribution to why that may be the case.

Of course, another element at work here is quietly discrediting anyone on the Republican or conservative side of the fence who believes that this nation can do much better.

The press has sung from this hymnal several times during the past half-century or so, all as a result of failed Democratic and leftist administrations. Examples include:

  • Mid-1960s/Early 1970s — New York City was supposedly ungovernable during and after eight horrific years under John Vliet Lindsay. Fittingly, Lindsay began his two terms in office as a liberal Republican, and spent his final two years as a Democrat.
  • Late-1970s — As Charles Krauthammer observed in a 2010 column, "In the latter days of the Carter presidency, it became fashionable to say that the office had become unmanageable and was simply too big for one man." Ronald Reagan made mincemeat of that liberal copout mantra.
  • Early 1990s — Once again, the "New York City is unmanageable" crowd had its day as the administration of Democrat David Dinkins was mismanaging and bankrupting the city while crime and civil disorder ran rampant. Republican Rudy Giuliani righted the ship to the point where Gotham became one of the safest of America's large cities.

Thus, as President Obama began his eighth year in office, the Times's Eduardo Porter stepped in, not to decry the cesspol of malfeasance and corruption Washington has become or the dismal economic performance it has engendered, but to tell readers that it's unreasonable to expect things to get meaningfully better, no matter who is in charge. Too many things are working against us. (So, I guess, you might as well elect Democrats to keep the goodie flow going, at least for a while.)

Porter begans by warping history (bolds are mine):

Take a look back at some of the most popular TV programs of the mid-1960s — “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Bewitched,” even “The Beverly Hillbillies” — and what do you see?

Like today, middle-class Americans typically had washing machines and air-conditioning, telephones and cars. The Internet and video games were not yet invented. But life, over all, did not look that different.

Really, Eduardo? Life in 1965 "did not look that different" from 2015? You're mostly very wrong, pal.

In 1973, barely 50 percent of homes had any kind of air conditioning (room or central). Clearly, having air conditioning at home was not "typical" eight years earlier. Today's percentage is roughly 90 percent (20 percent room, 70 percent central).

The typical American family in 1965 had one landline phone. Today, the typical American family member past eighth grade has a wireless phone. In 1965 (interpolating data found here), about 27 percent of U.S. households had two or more vehicles. By 2009 (Table 17 at link), that had more than doubled to 59 percent — and a large percentage of them were and still are SUVs, vehicles which barely existed in any similar form in the mid-1960s.

Porter's pathetic recall of history set the stage for his pessimistic future outlook. But like an accidental tourist who unknowingly happens upon an important attraction without understanding its significance, he mentioned two important trends, but failed to comprehend their underlying causes.

The first relates to "income concentration":

Tell the Truth 2016

Americans like to think they live in an era of rapid and unprecedented change, but this kind of comparison — pitting the momentous changes of the mid-20th century against the seemingly more modest progress of our present era (largely debunked above, until the past seven years — Ed.) — raises a critical question about the nation’s future prosperity.

What does this portend for our well-being over the next half century? Has technological progress slowed for good?

The idea that America’s best days are behind us sits in sharp tension with the high-tech optimism radiating from the offices of the technology start-ups and venture capital firms of Silicon Valley. But it lies at the heart of the current political unrest. And it is about to elbow its way forcefully into the national conversation.

... Despite the burst of progress of the Internet era, total factor productivity — which captures innovation’s contribution to growth — rose over that period at about one-third the pace of the previous five decades.

That’s hardly the worst part of the story. The labor force will continue to decline, as aging baby boomers leave the work force and women’s labor supply plateaus. And gains in education, an important driver of productivity that expanded sharply in the 20th century, will contribute little.

Moreover, the growing concentration of income means that whatever the growth rate, most of the population will barely share in its fruits.

Income concentration has increased significantly during the Obama era after not changing all that much during the previous 20-plus years. But apparently Porter won't allow himself to admit that — because if he does, he'll have to acknowledge that Obama's tax-and-spend regime combined with the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing have largely led to this result. A damaging side-effect, which Porter has effectively confirmed, is that an awful lot of people have concluded that the link between working hard and successfully getting ahead has weakened.

Here's the second trend Porter observed, but also failed to explain:

Other strands of data point in this direction. Business dynamism, measured by the role of new companies in the economy, appears to be waning. The share of employment in companies less than five years old dropped from about 19 percent in 1982 to 11 percent in 2011.

Well, shazam! A Times reporter has admitted that business start-ups are "waning," as is employment at those start-ups in their earlier years — and we're supposed to believe that it's basically been happening in straight-line fashion for the three decades through 2011. No, it hasn't (click here or on graphic to open in larger form in a separate tab or window; extra colored horizontal lines and singe vertical line added by me):

MalaiseAtYoungFirms1982to2011

The graph, found at Porter's link, is from "The Role of Entrepreneurship in US Job Creation and conomic Dynamism," a paper published in the Summer 2014 Joural of Economic Perspectives by two Census Bureau economists and two others.

Two of the graph's three key metrics seriously declined during the final four years reviewed:

  • The red horizontal lines cross paths at the points Porter identified for "share of employment." Porter failed to note that the percent in 1988 was virtually identical to the 19 percent seen in 1982 (using the scale in the right axis. In other word, young firm job creation declined a bit and returned to about where it had been during the Reagan era. After declining considerably during the next six years, it basically held steady until the early 2000s. The decline resumed in roughly 2003, shortly after the passage of the heavy-handed Sarbanes Oxley law which seriously impeded new firms' ability to go public, causing them in far more cases than in the past to instead get bought out by large firms. The pace of the decline accelerated after 2007 (vertical line), going from about 13.5 percent that year, which "just so happened" to be when Democrats took control of Congress, to less than 11 percent in 2011.
  • The green horizontal lines show that the share of firms that are young fell sharply from 40 percent in 2007 to 35 percent in 2011 — as much decline in fourth years as was seen during the previous quarter-century.

Small firms which want to become big are being throttled by Sarbox before they can become really big ones while maintaining their independence. Small firm startups are clearly far less frequent. Thanks to onerous employment regulations and hostile regulatory and legal environments, young firms are clearly not as eager to take on new employees, or as many new employees, as they once were.

Porter clearly doesn't understand that if America's best days really end up being behind us, it will be because government at first wouldn't get out of the way, and while it was in the way, especially while Obama has been President, it has conditioned all too many of its citizens to expect life and good fortune to come to them, instead of facing up to the reality that it will usually only happen if they make it happen. If government would get out of the way and people would get their heads on straight, there's no good reason why levels of growth and progress seen before Obama arrived on the scene can't return.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.